Leave it to a garage-rocker from the Motor City to show living legend Loretta Lynn what a real country album should sound like.
When White Stripes frontman Jack White came to Nashville to produce Lynn's latest album, Van Lear Rose, he dispensed with the kind of fancy studios most country artists from the last 20 years are used to. Instead, he set up an antiquated eight-track recorder in the living room of a house and knocked out the album in 12 days. The resulting down-home sound suited White and Lynn — who's released nearly 50 albums since 1963 — just fine.
"I didn't know it was going to be this country," Lynn said, "but it's as country as I am."
White, who dedicated his band's 2001 album, White Blood Cells, to Lynn, invited the country singer to perform with the White Stripes at a show in New York last year (see "White Stripes Meet The Coal Miner's Daughter At New York Show"). It was around that time that he volunteered to produce her new album.
"Why not? What could it do?" Lynn remembered thinking. "Either make it or break it, it don't make no difference to me."
"Just to meet Loretta Lynn is an honor, let alone work with her," gushed White, who produced, arranged and played on the album. "I'd play tambourine on this record if that was [all I was asked to do], I don't care. I just wanted to be in the same room as her."
For a 70-year-old mother of six, Lynn rocks like all get-out on Van Lear Rose, released April 27. While staying country with lazy waltzes and lap-steel guitars, the album incorporates loud, distorted, spacey atmospheres, confrontational percussion-driven melodies, and even a captivating spoken-word soliloquy that plays out like a campfire tale. The amalgam makes for a progressive country album that's rooted in tradition.
And as she's done in the past with tunes like the feminist anthems "The Pill" and "Don't Come A-Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)," Lynn doesn't mince words. On "Family Tree," she opts not to kick the ass of her husband's mistress because "I wouldn't want to dirty my hands on trash like you."
"I wanted to present each song in the best way possible and bring out the character of each song," White said. "If it was subtle, it needed to be subtle. If she was belting it out, we needed to be intense with it."
"Jack didn't want a polished sound, and he didn't get it either," Lynn added. "He's a great little producer. I see a lot of [legendary country producer] Owen Bradley in this kid. And for him to be so great now, what will he be later on? I think he'll be a greater producer than an artist, and he's already a great artist."
"Portland, Oregon," a duet with White about getting drunk on pitchers of sloe gin fizz and doing things you might regret in the morning, serves as the first single from Van Lear Rose, and it's getting some play at rock radio. White is also expected to join Lynn and her band the Do Whaters (so named by Lynn because they did whatever was asked of them) on tour, and future collaborations are reportedly on the way.
"It's interesting to see how this album will be taken by [rock] fans," White said. "I think a lot of White Stripes fans are already into it. Even if it's just because I'm involved that they check it out, that's all it takes. I wish somebody would've put a Loretta Lynn album in front of me when I was 10 years old."